Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) was a German sociologist and system theorist who wrote on law, economics, politics, art, religion, ecology, mass media, and love. Luhmann advocated a radical constructivism and antihumanism, or "grand theory," to explain society within a universal theoretical framework. Nevertheless, despite being an iconoclast, Luhmann is viewed as a political conservative. Hans-Georg Moeller challenges this legacy, repositioning Luhmann as an explosive thinker critical of Western humanism.
Moeller focuses on Luhmann's shift from philosophy to theory, which introduced new perspectives on the contemporary world. For centuries, the task of philosophy meant transforming contingency into necessity, in the sense that philosophy enabled an understanding of the necessity of everything that appeared contingent. Luhmann pursued the opposite--the transformation of necessity into contingency. Boldly breaking with the heritage of Western thought, Luhmann denied the central role of humans in social theory, particularly the possibility of autonomous agency. In this way, after Copernicus's cosmological, Darwin's biological, and Freud's psychological deconstructions of anthropocentrism, he added a sociological "fourth insult" to human vanity.
A theoretical shift toward complex system-environment relations helped Luhmann "accidentally" solve one of Western philosophy's primary problems: mind-body dualism. By pulling communication into the mix, Luhmann rendered the Platonic dualist heritage obsolete. Moeller's clarity opens such formulations to general understanding and directly relates Luhmannian theory to contemporary social issues. He also captures for the first time a Luhmannian attitude toward society and life, defined through the cultivation of modesty, irony, and equanimity.
The fact that Moeller has written such a convincing thesis is a major achievement in itself. It is made more impressive by the fact that he has, through the avoidance of sociological jargon and copious examples to illustrate his points, succeeded in conveying complex, abstract ideas in a way that makes them accessible to readers across a wide range of academic disciplines.
Michael King, University of Reading
Hans-Georg Moeller's timely and brilliant book marks a significant turn in the debate on Niklas Luhmann's great theory: the transition from the opposition pro/against to an external observation of the motives for enthusiasm or rejection. With his usual clarity and fascinating wealth of references, Moeller places Luhmann's theory at the heart of current intellectual reflection, indicating and demolishing the barriers that so far prevented its reception.
Elena Esposito, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia
1. The Trojan Horse: Luhmann's (Not So) Hidden Radicalism
2. Why He Wrote Such Bad Books
II. From Philosophy to Theory
3. The Fourth Insult: A Refutation of Humanism
4. From Necessity to Contingency: A Carnivalization of Philosophy
5. The Last Footnote to Plato: A Solution to the Mind-Body Problem
6. Ecological Evolution: A Challenge to Social Creationism
7. Constructivism as Postmodernist Realism: A Teaching of Differences
8. Democracy as a Utopia: A Deconstruction of Politics
9. Conclusion. Nec spe nec metu: Neither Hope nor Fear
Appendix: Niklas Luhmann (1927--1998): A Short Intellectual Biography